When Death Divides: A Case Study on Inheritance Without a Will

Multiple long-term relationships can lead to complicated inheritance issues when one member of the couple dies without an estate plan and a Will.

Dorothy* came to Timothy Rice Estate & Elder Law Firm for help being named administrator of her deceased husband’s estate. Jerry had died years before, and Dorothy continued living in his house after his death. The house, though, was solely in Jerry’s name and he died intestate, meaning he didn’t have a Will. Jerry has a daughter from a previous marriage.

On Dorothy’s behalf, we contacted Jerry’s daughter. Dorothy and her stepdaughter had enjoyed a good relationship up to this point. We let the daughter know that Dorothy wanted to become administrator of Jerry’s estate and continue staying in the house.

New Jersey intestate law lays out a complicated mathematical formula for how to divide an intestate estate. It depends largely on if the surviving spouse and the deceased had children together (Dorothy and Jerry did not) and if there were children from previous relationships. In this case, Jerry’s daughter hired her own attorney and asserted her rights to what the law allows: about a third of the house’s fair market value.

Dorothy was forced to cash in part of her IRA to buy out her stepdaughter’s share of the house. In addition to the hassle and expense, Dorothy and her stepdaughter’s relationship soured during the process.

Had Jerry created a Will that stated what he wanted to happen to his house after his death, he could have saved the two people he loved most a lot of time, stress and money spent on attorneys’ fees and taxes.

If you or your partner have children from previous relationships and you live together in a home under only one of your names, call the experienced estate planning attorneys at TREEL to help create a Will that protects everyone’s interests and minimizes emotional and financial risks.

*Names and some details have been changed to protect the client’s privacy.

intestate, New Jersey intestate

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